It was as predictable as rainfall in the Amazon. At the start of every World Cup, we Americans have the privilege of being lectured by people who are not Americans, or Americans who don’t live in America, about our lack of enthusiasm for soccer. Even TIME's Rome correspondent took his shot: “Why America Doesn’t Like Soccer, And How That Can Be Changed.” He’s a continental now, who’s going to teach us rubes how to enjoy the real football, even though we’ve been playing it for a century.
And there was John Oliver, on Last Week Tonight, in an otherwise brilliant takedown of the colluding clowns at FIFA, sneering that to Americans, soccer is something that “you pick your 10-year daughter up from.” Well played, John. Actually, a lot of parents watch their 10-years play, and with great interest since these girls frequently mature into world beaters, which is why the U.S. has won the Women’s World Cup and Olympic gold so often.
Oliver is from England, where everyone is bonkers over football, lest they have to watch cricket. England invented the modern game in the 19th century and, just like its Empire, has been losing control bit by bit ever since. The professional soccer league there, the Premiership, is without a doubt the world’s best. But it’s now a place where English fans watch foreigners play, because the English are really not that good at football themselves. Crap, in fact, as they would say. Some English clubs field entire teams without a native Englishman. John, did you catch that Italy-England game in Brazil? A lot of us did here in the Colonies. Italy delivered another master class, befuddling England yet again with a passing game, like a grandfather “hiding” nickels in his grandson’s ear. Our 10-year olds could have figured that one out. Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Oh, and did I mention the English are not very good at running football clubs either, which is why Americans now control some of their their famous teams, including Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
We own English football teams because we love the game so much. The Premiership is so popular in the U.S. that NBC just tripled the previous fee to win the American television rights, even though many of the games are broadcast on Saturday mornings. More recently, ESPN and Fox signed a huge deal to broadcast Major League Soccer and the U.S National team, because interest is growing so fast. ESPN even dropped NASCAR, which bleeds red, white (okay, not blue), to make room.
We’re watching soccer in record numbers. During the broadcast of Monday’s thrilling 2-1 win over our former nemesis Ghana, there were cuts to fanfests around the country as people gathered to watch our national team. Together, ESPN and Univision's telecasts drew nearly 16 million viewers—16 million—the highest-rated and most-viewed men’s soccer match ever, according to Nielsen. The bars in my neighborhood were jumping. U-S-A!, U-S-A! LeBron was watching. Kobe was there in Brazil where, as in South Africa, there will be more Yanks than Brits, or fans from any other nation. And our second team, known as Mexico, has a huge following too.
As far as “making” soccer exciting enough for Americans? Please don’t tell us we can’t take the low scoring. (Mets fans are certainly used to it.) What we can’t take are uninteresting teams, and we had them for too long. That’s not true any more. The current. U.S. national team is by no means a world beater but it has been playing an entirely different, much more entertaining game. The Yanks are willing to attack; we’re not playing the four-corner offense any more.
There was another suggestion, from a foreign policy wonk at Johns Hopkins, to eliminate the offside rule, which supposedly would lead to more goals. Because we need to have high scores, as if a 30-point basketball blowout is preferable to a 1-0 nailbiter. That rule change has been studied forever, and rejected because it would lead to more defense to prevent goal hanging-- and we know how much Americans hate defensive struggles. There was also a suggestion to bring in three judges to select a winner, just like in boxing. With boxing as your guide, what could possibly go wrong?
We don’t need any of this nonsense. The number of spectators attending MLS games is going to overtake those watching Italy’s famous Serie A. And why not? In the U.S. you get an honest game in a great setting; you can bring the whole family and not have to take out a second mortgage. In Italy, there have been so many match-fixing and other scandals that it’s hard to keep score. (Can you imagine adding judges?) Even worse, going to a match in Italy is like attending a riot-- only not as organized. Hurling debris, and stadium seats, at opposing fans is apparently a cherished custom. So is race-baiting opposing players.
So thanks everyone, but soccer is doing just fine in America. We don’t need to fix it because it’s not broken. You can continue to mock us as hopeless soccer rubes on your cable television show. That’s always good for a chuckle. But just keep in mind that more Americans are going to watch World Cup soccer games than are watching your show. Is that enough progress?